The Last Roman Amphitheater Ever Built Found Near Basel Switzerland!
An archaeological team accompanying construction workers building a new boathouse for the Basel Rowing Club in Kaiseraugst, Switzerland in December last year unexpectedly stumbled upon the remains of what is now considered to be the last Roman amphitheater ever built! The amphitheater was part of the ancient Roman settlement of Augusta Raurica on the Rhine, east of Basel. The oval-shaped amphitheater was built in an abandoned Roman quarry that had been in use until late antiquity. This clue, combined with the discovery of a coin from between 337 and 341 AD at the site, indicates that the amphitheater dates to the fourth century AD, according to a report on the Canton of Aargau media portal.
The modern-day territory of Switzerland was under Roman occupation from 15 BC, when it was annexed by Caesar Augustus, till AD 400, when Germanic invasions overpowered and fragmented Roman Switzerland. Though parts of it were later integrated into Charlemagne’s resurrected Holy Roman Empire in the 9th century, with his death in 843, his empire including Switzerland was divided among his grandsons.
The function of the oval ring of walls when they were found in Kaiseraugst, Switzerland was initially unclear and only in the course of the excavation did the answer appear: it was a Roman amphitheater! (Canton of Aargau)
From A New Modern Boathouse to the Last Roman Amphitheater!
Early last December, the excavation team from Aargau Cantonal archaeology department was monitoring the pre-construction stage of the new boathouse on the Rhine. And when the archaeological workers unearthed an oval ring wall they were completely surprised.
But what really changed everything was when archaeologists dated the finds at the site, including an ancient 4th century coin, and realized that the amphitheater had also been built in the 4th century AD. This made it the youngest or last Roman amphitheater ever built by the rulers of Rome and the Western Roman Empire, that fell apart only 136 years later! And this made the Swiss pre-construction discovery at the future boathouse site in Aargau, Switzerland world news.
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The composition of the building materials, including stones and mortar, also endorse this fourth century date, being “reminiscent of that of the late antique fort wall,” as reported by Live Science.
According to a January 19 statement from the Aargau Canton Department of Education, Culture and Sport, this is the second amphitheater to be discovered in Aargau and the third in the ancient Roman city of Augusta Raurica, which is mainly in Swiss Aargau but also extended in to what is now modern-day Germany and France as well!
A large gate was uncovered to the south of the complex, which was flanked on both sides by two side entrances. The threshold made of sandstone blocks from the western side entrance was still preserved. (Canton of Aargau)
The Last Roman Amphitheater’s Walls, Gates, and Thresholds
It took the archaeologists quite a while to understand that the oval walls were part of a Roman amphitheater, where in ancient times sporting events featuring fighting gladiators and animal hunts regularly took place. It was only as the excavation progressed and more of the structure was unearthed that they were able to confirm it was another Roman amphitheater.
The last Roman amphitheater ever built by Rome in Aargau was 164 feet (50 meters) long and 131 feet (40 m) wide, was built into a Roman quarry situated immediately west of the late Roman fort of Castrum Rauracense. The fort guarded the northern border of the Roman Empire in 300 AD and was no more than a few meters away from Germania (present-day Germany). Apart from its military function, Castrum Rauracense also served as an important administrative center for the Roman Empire.
In addition to the walls, a large gate was unearthed on the south side of the complex, with two side entrances. The western side entrance has a well-preserved threshold made of an impressive sandstone block. Another entrance was found on the west side of the complex with a similar sandstone threshold. The inner walls were plastered and showed evidence of wooden grandstands or seats.
“All the evidence together — the oval, the entrances and the post placement for a tribune [elected official] — speak for the interpretation as an amphitheater,” according to the Aargau Canton Department of Education, Culture and Sport press release.
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Until the discovery of the Kaiseraugst amphitheater the last Roman amphitheater was considered to be Vindonissa (Windisch), which is also in Aargau Canton. There are now eight Roman amphitheaters that have been discovered at this strategic geographical location were Roman Switzerland literally touched both Germania and Gaul. They have been found in Avenches (Aventicum), Martigny (Forum Claudii Vallensium), Nyon (Colonia Iulia Equestris), and on the Enge peninsula in Bern (Brenodurum), and then the three in ancient Augusta Raurica (which is partly in Switzerland and partly in Germany).
The last Roman amphitheater digging at Kaiseraugst has been undertaken to achieve maximum preservation of the unearthed Roman ruins. This is because the latest discovery has only increased the historical importance of Augusta Raurica as a sizable administrative-cum-military settlement of Roman Switzerland.
With three amphitheaters, a fort and a quarry, the site which straddles both the Aargau and Basel areas was evidently in use till the late Roman age in Switzerland. And it is quite likely that other artifacts will be discovered at the site, which will add more historical detail and understanding of the Swiss Roman period and how it ended.
Top image: Drone shot of the last Roman amphitheater ever unearthed in Kaiseraugst, Switzerland. Source: Canton of Aargau
By Sahir Pandey
Ag.ch. 2022. Römisches Amphitheater in Kaiseraugst entdeckt. Available at: https://www.ag.ch/de/aktuelles/medienportal/medienmitteilung/medienmitteilungen/mediendetails_180549.jsp
Geggel, L. 2022. Last Roman gladiator arena ever built unearthed in Switzerland. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/roman-amphitheater-discovered-switzerland
Encyclopaedia Britannica. Roman Switzerland. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/place/Switzerland/Roman-Switzerland